Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Giraffe taxonomy

For years there has been a usually friendly debate among taxonomists and biological scientists who fall into one of two camps. These are the “lumpers” and the “splitters”. I have always been a fence-sitter on this, as I do not know enough about the pure science to make a meaningful contribution. A recent report that reached me through the newsletter of the International Giraffe Working Group (IGWG) may lay the debate to rest, at least as far as giraffes are concerned. This beautiful image, which appears here in the on-line journal BMC Biology is not a fanciful depiction of a multi-coloured palm leaf, but shows how six different groups of giraffes can be divided at the species level through the wonders of DNA technology. Many of the species separated as long as a million years ago. The ten-author study was led by David Brown, from the University of California, Los Angeles.

There are some obvious differences in appearance among the species, the most striking of which is the chocolate-coloured and clearly delineated coat pattern of the reticulated giraffe from Kenya’s north-east, which here in the first picture, taken at Borana. For those who wonder, the mountain at the back is Mt. Kenya. As for Borana, you can find out more about the idyllic lodge and setting here.

A closer view of these striking beasts show four of them in close association. Two are “necking” a competitive activity which ecologist Richard Estes describes in these terms (the) “Movement and counter movement appear rhythmical and synchronized, imparting the sinuous grace of a stylized dance”.

There are two other species of which I have my own photos. This one shows a group of Rothschild's giraffe, in Uganda’s Murchison Fall NP.

This photo of Rothschild giraffes taking the midday shade under a Fever Tree, was taken in Lake Nakuru NP, to which the founding herd had been translocated from western Kenya when the land they lived on had been developed for farming. Lake Nakuru is outside their traditional range, but the herd has been used as a source for subsequent translocations, notably back to Uganda, where numbers have been in decline ever since the ravages of Idi Amin and his armies.

And then there is the Masai giraffe, which is the first kind that I saw as I left Nairobi Airport (before it was named after Kenya's first president) in 1965, three days after graduating from veterinary school in Scotland and 16 years after leaving the country of my birth. I saw this group below the Ngong Hills, just outside Nairobi a few months later. Sadly there are not may there now, as poaching pressure with gun and snare has been relentless.

The speciation may not stop at six. Author David Brown and his colleagues in their paper in the BMC online journal state that
"The discovery of potential giraffe species may not be over. The Thornicroft's giraffes are a morphologically distinct population of giraffes endemic to the Luangwa Valley in Zambia, and a key link between the African continent’s north and south populations. The population is biologically isolated from other giraffe populations and as such is ecologically and potentially genetically unique."

In common with much else in the wildlife world, all over the globe, the numbers of giraffe are declining, in concert with expanding human populations. As Brown and his colleagues state
"There has been an estimated drop of 30% decade to less than 100,000 giraffes remaining on the continent."

Nowhere is this more apparent than in West Africa, where bushmeat hunting activity is rampant. Here is what Brown and his co-authors have on this part of the story.
"Within the peralta group of West-Central African there are only about 200 giraffes remaining in all of West Africa west of Cameroon where until the mid-20th century there were perhaps thousands"
There are several other fascinating articles in the IGWG newsletter that is edited by Dr. Julian Fennessy, so for those as captivated by these magnificent animals as am I, I suggest that you make contact with him. I cannot give you his email address here - that would be inappropriate, but he may choose to add it in the comments section to this posting.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lion Conservation Successes

It is a nice change to be able to report the good rather than the depressing about wildlife issues anywhere. Here is more good news from Kenya and the Lion Guardians of the Kilimanjaro region. Their annual report, written by Leela Hazzah, Antony Kasanga and Amy Howard is mostly upbeat and gives one hope. Much of what I am about to report is lifted, with copy and paste, direct from their report.

"Since the rains, the lion population has tripled on Mbirikani; we estimate that there are currently between 13‐16 lions on the ranch. Many of these lions are moving here from Amboseli National Park, and the group ranch surrounding it, and from the southern border of the ranch from neighboring Kuku Group Ranch"

Of course no one should imagine that the lions have decided on a cattle amnesty. This photo, taken by Anthony Kasanga shows Lion Guardian Kapande with a cow killed by a lion on the ranch. It is simply that through the Predator Compensation Fund (PCF) herdsmen can be compensated for cattle that are proven to be lion victims. Since the launch of PCF there has been a dramatic decrease in lion killing, while lion killing has continued unabated outside the ranch boundaries.

For instance on neighbouring ranches, where no PCF, or even a guardians program, exists, there have been a minimum of seven lions killed in the past year. Leelah and her team-mates are in the process of starting up the Lion Guardians program in these areas, in the hope of reducing lion killing.

Program members spend at least three days a week monitoring predators, ranging from lions to some of the smallest of all, like the genet. Currently there are eight collared lions being monitored by the Guardians.
These photos, taken my Amy Howard, show some aspects of the program.

One collared male lion, Ndelie, has recently been fitted with an Iridium GPS collar. This enables us, and the general public, to monitor his activities via the internet

Another new development has been that the court system has begun to deal seriously with people who kill lions. There have been three arrests this year that led to substantial fines. A man who poisoned two lions was fined the equivalent of US$ 1000, and two murrans caught in possession of lions claws intended for sale on the coast were fined USD $1250. The claws would possible have fetched as much as US$ 3000, so, as always, some rich buyer(s) are just as guilty.

This is obviously a very brief synopsis of a detailed nine-page report. Anyone who wants more can either email me and I can send a pdf copy, or get in touch directly with the folks in Kenya through their web site.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lion Rabies and Plastic Kills Elephants

Those who subscribe The Wildlife Disease News Digest Listserv ( will be aware of the very unusual occurrence of rabies that has been diagnosed in an entire pride of lions in the Khutse Game Reserve in Botswana. This isolated park lies right in the middle of the country, and I had never even heard of it until the posting appeared in my “in” box. No worries. With the help of the ever-useful Google I found not only a fascinating description of this remote and very basic reserve, but a map (at this URL ) showing all the reserves and National Parks. Khutse is not named, but I’m guessing that it is the large green area in the middle of the map.

Dr Clay Wilson, a private veterinarian, diagnosed the disease and commented, in the article you can find under today’s date posted here
“that the lions could have acquired the disease from jackals”
. The full article is available here This is probably the most common way in which this deadly disease is transmitted in Africa, so he is probably correct.As the jackal strain of the rabies virus can be identified with DNA techniques it will be interesting to follow this case.

A footnote to the article has wider implications and highlights yet again the dangers of plastic waste, the plague of so much of our world in every corner.
“Meanwhile three elephants in Chobe National Park died after eating trash from the Chobe landfill.”

A senior Wildlife Biologist, Mr Keagapetse Mosugelo said the elephants died as a result of plastics they ate in the landfill.
"The situation at the landfill is not good for animals,"
he said, adding that the electric fence that has been installed is not sufficient as birds will still flying in to eat waste.

Chobe, which is a fascinating park that lies right in the north of Botswana, is one of the areas on the continent where elephants have created their own min-deserts as they are so abundant that have almost eaten themselves out of house and home.
When we visited Chobe ten years ago there were tracts of nothing but sand and elephants had to trek many miles every day between food sources and the Chobe river (which flows into the Zambezi) where I took this picture.

For readers of mystery novels, I would recommend Anthony Bidulka’s Sundowner Ubuntu: A Russell Quant Mystery which is set in Africa, and in which Chobe plays a vital role. Tony, whose web site is here visited Botswana as part of his “research” for the novel (tough research eh!) and was obviously hard bitten, but luckily not by a jackal.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Living With Lions

The annual report of the Living With Lions program in Kenya has just arrived. This program, headed by Laurence Frank of the University of California Berkeley has been growing from strength to strength over the last three or four years and shines a bright light on conservation in Kenya that gives one some real hope for the future of Africa’s most charismatic species. Living With Lions has expanded in its two main areas of activity, which are in the Maasai country around Amboseli and in Laikipia district, west and north of Mount Kenya. Some work has also started up in the Masai Mara conservation area, where lions are under heavy threat.

A quote from the report is another from the ongoing litany of conservation messages makes a sad comment on modern life: ...lions, hyenas and other large predators are disappearing under the onslaught of spears, guns and poison. This grisly photo was taken by veterinarian Dr. Patrick Garcia in the Serengeti National park. He and the film crew with whom he was working witnessed the dying moments of a lion caught in a snare.

There are a couple of blogs that give one information about the activities of the group, and currently the most active one is about the Lion Guardians.

To quote the report
“On the Kenyan side, lions are under severe and increasing pressure, as people are spearing and poisoning lions at a rate which threatens population extinction within a few years.”
This photo, taken by Amy Howard, one of the report’s authors, shows two male lions that had been poisoned a couple of years back.

An interesting change has occurred in Kenyan Maasailand, and this quote from the report tells most of the story.
"Sadly two of our study animals, Amber and Sangale were poisoned in January 2008. Because the Lion Guardians had made these animals very familiar to the local people, the Maasai community was incensed at the loss of these well‐known individuals, and the man responsible for their poisoning was shamed by his neighbors. The Lion Guardians and various members of LWL participated in the lions’ post-mortem and follow up investigation. Our work contributed to the perpetrator being found guilty of illegally killing these lions. This is one of the first incidents where a Kenyan court has handed out a guilty verdict on a poisoning case. Use of poison is currently the single greatest threat to Kenya’s lions.

The buy-in by the Maasai is clear when one sees this photo, taken by another LWL team member, Leelah Hezzah, is of Lion Guardian Mokoi using an antenna to track a radio-collared lion.

It is conservation programs like this one, which has involved the local people at every step, that have a chance of working. Long may it continue and continue to grow.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Storytelling at Sacred Heart School in Estevan

Good fun with a storytelling gig for the Sacred Hearts School in Estevan, which is a but a few short miles from the US border in the southeastern part of Saskatchewan.
Librarian Laurie Sokel had organized the whole thing and some 55 kids in grade 5 & 6 were there with a few teachers in the Estevan Public Library and we posed afterwards for this picture, taken by teacher Hanna Keating.

Told stories of personal experiences with rhino, mixed in with a rhino folk tale that you can find on my web site here but of course as a told story it has many more embellishments than when written for reading. After that I switched to stories about Uganda and used the account of the importance of hippos as the major food source for herbivorous fish in lakes, and the disastrous effects of poaching on the entire chain. Finished up with a few brief accounts of the two schools at Kasenyi and Equator Highway and the privations and successes that the children there deal with on a day-to-day basis. I have never had a reception quite like this one, as the kids cheered and clapped afterwards, which made the 5-hour trip worth every minute.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Uganda trip and Gorilla babies

Preparations for our trip to Uganda in February next year are going ahead. The student group have finished their big veterinary licensing exams and can now concentrate on the trip. They have to prepare their talks, and also start the fund-raising for the support of the two schools that we have linked with over the last few years. One concern has been the terrible news coming out of the eastern DRC, and whether that conflict would spill over into Uganda. I have been in touch with the consulate in Kampala, and they assure me that things are quiet (I almost wrote All Quiet on the Western Front but that phrase has already been used by Erich Maria Remarque in his important book.)

Meanwhile this interesting and encouraging report about the birth of gorilla twins in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest appeared today on the Wildlife Disease News Digest
The picture on the blog is credited to Getty Images.

Lillian Nsubuga, a spokeswoman for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) was plainly delighted with the news as you can see if you go to the blogShe obviously hopes that the news will further boost the tourism industry in Uganda, because gorillas are the poster children for that entire sector.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Anthrax from drums

There’s a horrible story from Scotland about a drummer who died of anthrax in 2006. The inquest determined that he got the disease after inhaling spores. It seems as if he was exposed at a drumming class in at Smailholm village hall near Kelso in the Scottish borders.

The report reached me through the important source of Promed-ahead the very detailed Listserv that covers the entire gamut of infectious diseases of all living things, from plants to humans. You can visit ProMED-mail's web site here to learn more about this superb service, which is available to anyone and everyone, and is only supported through private funds, with no government involvement. This ensures that it remains truly independent.

Anthrax seems to be reported at least once a month, sometimes once a week, from somewhere in the world and it was a serious problem three years ago in Queen Elizabeth National park, Uganda, when a large number of hippo died. The year before the outbreak it was common to see leopard on the channel track near Mweya Lodge, but they all disappeared and the next year we saw none. It is a reasonable assumption that they fed on carcasses and died of this disease. We saw this hippo in the park’s Lake Edward the year before the anthrax outbreak, and one of our MSc students, Dr. Eddie Kambale of the DRC went out to take a swab form an open wound on its neck. It was anthrax negative, and we saw other wounds. The likelihood is that it died in a fight.

There does not seem to be any information on the source of the drums and whether they originated in the UK, or came in from overseas. With the frequent reports of this nasty disease from so many corners of the world I just hope that the drums these kids are playing with at the Kasenyi Primary School in QEP were not from anthrax carcasses. It would seem not, as the drums have been at the school for 4 years and are frequently played.

Source: The story ran in ( ProMED-AHEAD Digest of Friday, November 28 2008 (Volume 2008 : Number 304)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Saskatchewan Book Awards, The Trouble With Lions

The Saskatchewan Book Awards gala (check their web site) was held in Regina over the weekend. Over 450 folks attended, and the organizers really laid on a big bash, with books short-listed in thirteen categories from 261 published this year in a province with a population of just about 1 million. If one computes that on the basis of an author producing work once in four years it comes to about 1000 published authors, which is a pretty amazing stat.

The Trouble With Lions was short-listed in two categories, and I have added a scan that shows each of those, with the names of the other authors and the brief notes made by the jurors about each one. Just looking at the comments on my own work I was astonished to see how the book had affected the two groups of jurors. Here is the Saskatoon book list If one reads the comments one might think that they had read two completely different books! And here is the nonfiction list

The winners in my categories were Donna Caruso, for her Journey Without A Map, Growing Up Italian: A Memoir, (Thistledown Press) (Non-Fiction) and Louise Bernice Halfe, The Crooked Good, (Coteau Books) (Saskatoon Book).

Both are super books, and it was great to be in the company of so many gifted folks. One of the highlights of the evening for me was the fact that the keynote speaker, Maria Campbell, is both an author and a storyteller. I think that sometimes we forget how closely these two disciplines are linked, but one of our most iconic authors, Robertson Davies, did not forget. In The Merry Heart he wrote
“The author today is the descendant of the storyteller who went into the market-place, sat himself down upon his mat, and beat upon his collection bowl, crying, “Give me a copper coin and I will tell you a golden tale!”

Friday, November 28, 2008

Wildlife Trafficking - Bangkok

Amidst all the carnage and horror of Mumbai it hardly seems worth running a blog piece about wildlife, but this item, which I cut from the Singapore newspaper The Straits Times of November 8th, shows an ugly side to the entire gamut of wildlife issues round the globe.
As you can easily see I had to get out the scissors and do some chopping in order to get the whole thing on to the scanner. It is one more example of how humans use and abuse wildlife. In this case the market is in Thailand's Bangkok, which is of course under a barrage of political strife right now, so this matter will receive scant attention from authorities dealing with more immediate issues.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bali Starling and Conservation

We have just returned from a wonderful holiday in Bali, Indonesia. Even there the issues of conservation surfaced with regularity, but the information is a bit confusing. The poster child for this island is the Bali starling Leucopsar rothschildi. We used two guide books, the ultra-famous Lonely Planets, and another called Eyewitness Travel, which has many more pictures of places and people than its more famous cousin, but not as much information. Then I checked the Internet after Googling the bird’s name – this is where I got the accompanying photo, posted on the Bali Bird park web site here . It is in this park that the birds a bred in a conservation program that may be one of the most important on the island.

Both books agree that the numbers of truly wild starlings, also known as Rothschild’s mynah are desperately low, perhaps as few a ten animals, or maybe none at all, all confined (if there) to the Taman Nasional Bali Barat park in the island’s western region. Lonely Planets spells it out after telling the reader about release attempts from the pre-release centre in the national park. “
This proved impossible. Despite heroic efforts by some staff members, birds were often killed by predatory falcons, while countless other were stolen from the centre by armed thieves.
” The “armed thieves” bit is what caught my eye. The reasons for the theft is not hard to seek. Birds, according to Lonely Plants, can fetch USD $700 each.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Glasgow Vet in Africa: Uganda primary schools fund raising

A Glasgow Vet in Africa: Uganda primary schools fund raising Canadian Veterinarians Without Borders/ Vétérinaires Sans Frontiéres

Uganda primary schools fund raising

Things are moving ahead with the preparations for our 2009 Uganda trip. Most of the students who were not on duty at the clinic were able to come to the house for a curry supper. This gave us all a chance to meet in a less formal setting than the vet college. One of our recipes comes from an old book that was given to us by house guest Dr. Elizabeth (Becky) Manning many years ago when she visited Saskatoon. The book, written by S.N.M. Khan in 1934 is called The Finest Indian Muslim Cooking and Becky found it in a used bookstore in her home town of Madsion, Wisconsin. The recipe, which is for mutton, can be seen here, but of course the paper is a bit faded, so you may need to enlarge the image. The other point is that we used venison, but that will come as no surprise to those who know us.

One of the main activities that is ongoing, and which we discussed, is a big fund-raising effort for support of the two primary schools we have supported in past years. One of them is located in the village of Kasenyi, on the shores of Lake George in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park. The other is an AIDS orphanage located at the edge of the park. It is called Equator Highway Primary School. Her are a couple of pictures that show some of the efforts we have made in past years. At Kasenyi the children surprised and delighted us with a concert using the musical instruments that they had purchased with the funds we donated the previous year. There were drums, a large xylophone and several hand harps. At Equator the children were delighted with the teddy bears that had been knitted for us to take to Africa by our local Saskatoon charity Teddies for Tragedies as this photo by Tessa Leena shows.

The big news on this fund-raising is that we are able to go through the Canadian branch of Veterinarians Without Borders/ Vétérinaires Sans Frontiéres. This means that donors who need them will be able to get charitable receipts.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

War in the DRC and gorilla survival

More desperate news from the DRC. An email this morning describes how rebel soldiers have completely taken over thePark Headquarters at Rumangabo in the of the Gorilla Sector of Virunga National Park. The fighting between the rebels of Laurent Nkunda and the army has engulfed the park. One reason for the continued war in this region is that it is incredibly resource-rich. One of the most important minerals is Coltan, which contains tantalum, used the world over in electronic equipment, particularly cell phones, DVD players and computers. Miners have been forced to work at gun point, in a grim return to the Heart of Darkness days of Conrad. For more details on Coltan you can go to the Wikipedia site.

The park rangers have been forced to flee en masse and so there is now nobody to keep an eye on things. For a map of the region you can go to the blog. Of course this blog is rightly concerned with the fate of the 200 or so mountain gorillas that make the park home, but with that level of human incursion it will not just be gorillas that are being hammered. Hippos have taken a huge hit over the last years (down from over 20,000 to a few hundred) , and anything that moves in the forest is going to be considered as fair game (bad pun) for hungry soldiers looking for bush meat.

Anyone wishing for more information can send a message to this email

Friday, October 24, 2008

Teddies for Uganda

We are setting up for our Uganda trip in several different ways.
On Monday I spent time with the ladies of Teddies For Tragedies, a group of women who have knitted little Teddy Bears for kids in many countries. Last year that gave us a bunch of Teddies for the schools we support, and of course we sent them a thank you note along with a photo. This year they have outdone themselves and asked me to come and collect what they had. Not unreasonably Edna Jennings, the group's coordinator, asked me if I could show them a few pictures & tell them a story or two. Of course that was a pleasure, and so I did.
Imagine my delight when I came home with 157 Teddies, with promise of 30 more to come. That evening I had a call from Edna's sister, who loves in southern Saskatchewan, in the town of Weyburn. Guess what! There are 50 more Teddies on the way by bus. The good news did not stop there. Edna had asked the Saskatoon Star Phoenix newspaper to send a photographer, and the next day this image appeared. That evening I had a call form an old friend, Lesley Avant of the Saskatoon Zoological Society. We now have a bunch of 't' shirts to take as well.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Saskatchewan Writers Guild and Book Awards

Just off a good weekend at the Saskatchewan Writers Guild AGM. The overall theme of the gathering was For The Love of Words and a stellar cast of invited speakers took us through sessions on Romance Writing, Writing About Sex, Loving Language, and Writing About Love in Poetry. There were also sessions titled Love Your Guild (which told us all about the Guild’s many programs) and Promoting Your Writing.

A new board was also elected at the AGM, Here is the group photograph of most of us. From left to right, Lisa Wilson, Bob Calder, Cathy Fenwick, Susan Hogarth, Gloria Boerma, Paula Jane Remlinger, Jerry Haigh and Danica Lorer. Susan is the executive director of the Guild, and all the others are elected. There are two board members missing from the photo. Scott Miller, who comes from Estevan had a five-hour journey home on his motorbike, so did not hang around, while Michael Trussler had not been able to get to any of the events.

Despite my concerns about the amount of travel that I do, and the lengthy absences from Canada, mainly in Africa, the members saw fit to ask me to stand as the incoming president. I would not have taken it on had it not been for the fact the several members of the board are staying on, and both Bob Calder, the past-president, and Susan, will be around to guide me through patches where I don’t know the ropes, while other board members have also volunteered to do what they can. It will be a great group to work with.

The other good news is that the folks at the Saskatchewan Book Awards have invited me to “read” at the Saskatoon brunch for short-listed authors on the 23rd of November. The event takes place in the city’s Bessborough hotel. Just like the other four authors who are listed in different categories I will have ten minutes on the podium. That will make for an interesting challenge! I will almost certainly take less than two minutes on actually reading, and use the rest to skip-stone through a few bits as brief stories.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Book awards, The Trouble With Lions

Exciting news!
The Trouble With Lions A Glasgow Vet in Africa has been short-listed in two categories for the Saskatchewan Book Awards, of which you can read more here. This year there were 113 entries, which is a record and also an amazing stat when you think that the province has only just reached its peak population EVER of 1 million people. The official number on July 1, 2008 according to the Saskatchewan Bureau of Statistics was 1015985. That is a published author, in the 2007/2008 year alone, for every 8991.017699115044 people! I guess that on July 1st the stats people guessed that one woman somewhere in the province was just a teeny little bit pregnant.

Now for the wait. The actual awards do not get handed out until November 29th at a gala evening. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

West African chimps and the bushmeat trade

The bushmeat issue continues to strike hard at wildlife populations in Africa. I was tempted to write “strikes again” but at would have been wrong, as it has never stopped. This story from the Wildlife Disease News Digest is about the virtual disappearance of chimps in West Africa, specifically Côte d'Ivoire, and details can be found here.

Here is one example of the consequences of the bushmeat trade. This juvenile chimp was locked in a tiny cage in a hotel forecourt near the town of Limbé on Cameroon's coast. It is likely that the entire family was taken out by hunters, and that they figured out that the value of this one alive was greater than as meat, so they sold it to the hotel.

The disappearance of the chimps is but one layer. The forest itself is vanishing as well, and with it precious resources that include medicinal plants.

In 2001 Ghanaian journalist Vivian Baah wrote a series of articles under the title "Guess What’s Cooking for Dinner?” and “Confessions of a bush meat journalist” in The Evening News of Accra in which she not only stated her love of bush meat, particularly grasscutter (cane rat), but also described in detail how she joined a group of hunters who were finding it increasingly difficult to obtain meat for market, and who were resorting to the burning of forests in order to improve their success rates.
Here is a picture that I took in Cameroon several years ago that shows a cane rat, and some unidentifiable smoked monkeys. As you can see the “storefront” is a broken-off tree branch on which hangs, in pride of place, a francolin.

Ms. Baah speculated that the long-term effects of all these activities and the likely effects on the plants used in traditional medicine and the environment in general could not be anything but decline and disappearance.

Noted wildlife photographer Karl Amman, whose website is a must visit for those concerned with bushmeat issues has documented the bushmeat trade with a series of images that are as striking as they are detailed. Take a look.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Flying Eagles

There’s a neat story and video clip on the BBC web site this morning. It is titled Man 'shows bird how to fly' and will be particularly heartening to wildlife rehabilitators as it concerns the training of a 14 year-old American Bald eagle that has been in captivity all its life. A party of handlers took it all the way to the top of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain and then the falconer paraglided down while the bird flew for the first time in its life. Take a look here.

The bald eagle is a close cousin to the African Fish eagle. It is only the amount of white on the body that gives them a clear difference on the surface. Here are a couple of favourite fish eagle pictures. The first from Uganda, which was taken by one of our WCVM wildlife rotation alumna, Karen Kemp. The second is my own from Botswana.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Death of Dr. Zahoor Kashmiri

Some sad news in from Kenya. Samuel Maina, who writes a periodic newsletter called Wildlife Direct News has reported about the untimely death of Dr. Zahoor Kashmiri, a wildlife vet in Kenya who was well-known and much called upon in many areas of East Africa. Dr. Kashmiri was killed by an elephant in Ethiopia when he was there working on them. Here are some pictures taken from the header of the page about him. He wrote, in his own blog
"I have faith in life and I think I have had more then my share of good life for which I am more than thankful to God. I have had a more than full life. I think I have reached my destiny and it is now for me to help others where I may still enjoy the fringe benefits I get. Of course a bonus comes by sometimes"
A fund in his name has been established to support wildlife vets.

The Wildlife Direct News, which focuses on Africa, Asia and South America can be found here and you can subscribe to the newsletter by simply filling in the appropriate box. There are numerous links to conservation issues in many countries and Samuel has collated a large number of blogs under one main page. One of the most recent comes from Zimbabwe and has some great pictures of two new litters of African wild dogs. The blogger is Rosemary Groom and she has written about the dogs on today’s date in her latest post. If you go her blog you will also find a personal perspective on the problems of day-to-day living in that troubled country.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Kenya Rhino back to the wild

There is a fascinating report on today’s BBC web site It is about the return of black rhino back to the wild in Kenya. For those who know the scenery it is pretty obvious where the animals were caught, and the story contains four short video clips featuring BBC reporter Karen Allen and the Kenya Wildlife Service team who did the translocations. I use the plural here, as at least two animals are shown, and they are really the stars. What is important is that the report does not contain any indication of either the capture or the release site.

The first clip has only very minor difference form my own footage shot almost 40 years ago on my own Super8 Canon camera when working with Tony Parkinson, John Seago and their team. Of course my footage suffers badly by comparison because it was shot by an amateur (me), and sat on its tiny celluloid film for 30 years before I had it transferred to a DVD, from which it was again transferred to Youtube. You can see the old footage here on my web page.

And note some important differences. First, my own footage opens with a rhino being pulled over with a long lariat that was placed around its neck with a bamboo pole. Second,. And probably the only thing that is better than the BBC stuff, is the shot down the barrel of my dart gun as a rhino is about to be darted. I got the shot by taping the camera to the fore-end of the gun with what was then called Gaffer’s Tape (now known as Duct Tape). The reason that the ground team were there with the lariat was that the country we were working in in the early 1970s, not 30 km from the BBC spot, was riddled with deep luggahs (dry gullies that fill with water during the rainy season). They are often almost invisible in the long grass and as we worked from the helicopter we would warn the ground crew and they could prevent a darted rhino from falling into one, which would have been disastrous.

Here you can find the new footage of the darting, for comparison.

Then comes the monitoring. In the BBC report it has been edited into a second short clip Other than the placement of the transmitter and the cutting off of the horn the process is identical to my old footage (it could hardly be any different.)

It is in the 3rd BBC clip that things differ a lot from the old techniques. Since the 70s it has been shown that captured rhino do much better if they are allowed to stand during the transport phase. After all the processing they are given a partial antidote and allowed to stand in a somewhat dazed state. At least that is what everyone hopes they will be. They are then pulled into a waiting crate, where the trap door is quickly dropped before the final dose of antidote is given. I have been involved in this process with White Rhino when working with Dr. J.P (Cobus) Raath in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The first of these three pictures shows a rhino struggling to get to his feet a few minutes after that partial dose. That's me at the left in the second picture, and everyone is puling hard in the third one.

The BBC footage, which shows a little of this technique, is on the 3rd clip here.

When I was translocating rhino we often had to take them large distances – up to 100 km in some cases, and so we held them in bomas (corrals) before we moved them. At that time there were about 20,000 black rhino in Kenya alone and some rhino were not released but were captured for sale to zoos. That was show Tony & John earned their fees. Now there are less than 600 left in the country, victims of a poaching war, for reasons that you can read about in several places, including chapter 15 of The Trouble With Lions. I hope nobody thinks it has anything to do with aphrodisiacs for old oriental men. That is a print media myth that sells articles, (it’s an eye-catching headline, sex, animals and humans) but is far from the truth. The real reasons relate to traditional oriental medicine and human vanity.

In this new story I am pretty sure that the release sites were within 50 km of the capture site, and so release could be immediate, and much better for the rhino, as you can see here in the very short 4th clip.

I never did get any of my own shots of a release, but the front cover of Wrestling With Rhinos show Peter Beard’s extraordinary photo of just such an event. It contains all the drama in one shot.

As the BBC site clearly sates, this effort shows a real desire on the part of the KWS, and their helpers, the Zoological Society of London, to reverse an ugly trend. Let’s wish them al the very best in the efforts.

However, no one should imagine that wildlife poaching has ceased in Kenya. The Lewa Conservancy web site carries this story dated Sept 16th of the arrest of four poachers who have allegedly been involved in ivory and rhino poaching for years.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

2009 Bird Calendars for Uganda Schools

There have been several different methods to raise funds for the two little schools that we support in Uganda. Every year we have been selling calendars showing birds of Africa. Here is the front picture for the 2009 issue. The proceeds are all used as funds to support the schools program at Kasenyi and Equator Highway primary schools in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. Equator Primary has a large number of registered AIDS orphans. You can see some of what we have done in the student blogs from the years 2007 and 2008, or from chapter 27 of The Trouble With Lions. You can find out more about the book here, where several pdf pages and part chapters can be read.

This year I have gathered enough photos to do one with the theme Black, Grey and White Birds of Africa. Here are some of the images from it.

To make the link to the schools more clearly I have added photos taken by Tessa Leena who accompanied us as videographer on the trip in February 2008. She took dozens of pictures at both schools and I have included a few that show the kids and their school surroundings.

One of our activities was to paint a mural in a classroom and artists Vivian Lau and Tyler Stitt spent a good hour with the landscape that depicts the park, the Lake George and some of the Giant Euphorbias. We also painted, or re-painted, the school blackboards, which looked more grey than black when we began to work on them. Here are Jo Haigh and Jill Meacher hard at work.

Calendar sales have been brisk so far, at $20.0 each, which gives us a profit of under $8.00 towards the school programs. If you would like one, or a whole lot, please contact me through the comments section below. They make great Christmas presents and Sandy Farber, of Jubilee Travel in Saskatoon (details here) has just purchased one as a birthday present for her bird-watching sister. Sandy has been our go-to travel agent for all the arrangements for the trip.

We cannot offer a discount on the price, as every cent goes to the schools, and we do not have a charitable tax number. We can only take payment by cheque or cash, and we would have to add postage, as we do not want to cut in to the money we raise. This has been a low-key operation over the years, but 100% of our proceeds go where they are needed.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Canadian Vet Students to Uganda -1

Met last evening with the new group of ten Canadian final year vet students who will be coming to Uganda next February. Of course there was a mass of things to discuss, not least of which was the whole issue of travel safety & insurance that the university requires them to cover. They have to take three on-line tests and keep a sharp eye on the Canada government's Foreign Affairs web pagethat has travel reports for every country especially of course for us about Uganda. If the worst came to the worst and something really bad cropped up in Uganda the trip would be canceled. Right now the biggest threat posed by a Ugandan occurs in the DRC where the leader of the self-styled Lord’s Resistance Army continues to terrorize villages and kidnap children. If the past is anything to go by these youngsters are turned into child soldiers and sex slaves. It seems as if Joseph Kony and his cronies have not operated in Uganda for quite a few years.

Enough of that stuff. Our Canadian group members are already making plans for fund raising to supper the two schools that we have helped in the last several years. School supplies, cash for new desks and textbooks and lots of gifts have been given out.
Generous donors in Saskatoon have supplied soccer uniforms and lots of other sports equipment. The boys have reveled in the uniforms and they first time they put them on it seemed as if they had grown about two inches in as many minutes – as this picture shows.
Of course we have to then play them at their own game, and we are usually thrashed, although we did manage a 1-1 tie one year.

Girls do not pay soccer, but they do have uniforms for volleyball and netball, and one year we played after a huge downpour when there was about an inch of water on the outdoor court. A messy experience, as you can see.

In February 2008 each child in grades 1-4 of the Equator Highway Primary School, which is an AIDS orphanage, received a teddy bear that had been lovingly knitted by members of the Saskatoon ladies group who call themselves Teddies for Tragedies.
Most of these kids had never had a gift or a doll before in their lives, so you can imagine the reception.

More to follow in this one as the fund raising continues.